“Nobody can be anybody without somebody being around.”
John Wheeler

The Element

Roughness: Christopher’s Corners


Christopher Alexander, in The Nature of Order, frequently references ancient Turkish prayer carpets. I wasn’t, and still am not a fan of these artifacts, but as I was searching for an example to use in this post, I was surprised to find, that though there are many images online, finding one that is good was difficult. I was finally able to find one that demonstrated the idea of corners, but not one that felt beautiful … so this will have to do:

Following is a cutout section (marked in the picture above):

Borders are one of the key features in these carpets and this particular carpet illustrates how patterns are used to created borders. These specific patterns (there are four borders depicted in the image) are weak and uninteresting (because I could not find good ones with enough resolution for this demonstration) but they are enough to demonstrate corner. What happens when you continue these patterns? when you repeat them and eventually reach the corners? Here is what happens:

Roughness appears. They do not match up perfectly and each corner needs to be specifically and locally resolved. This king of roughness is typical in living structures. When an underlying pattern comes into being in a specific context it meets and responds to that context. A leaf on a tree is has a specific underlying pattern, but every leaf grows on a specific place on a branch that is exposed to light and wind and in relation to other leaves and other branches. It grows uniquely in response to its settings and conditions.

When we approach this with a mental / logical mindset (and a correlated sense of aesthetics) we do not arrive at such results. Imagine a graphic designer using software to mimic such a carpet. What is likely to happen is that when the pattern does not converge perfectly in a corner, the designer will go back and change the pattern or overall scale … find some way to make the corner work out (continuing the pattern but generating exacting / symmetric / repeated results). The result is that the carpet (or design) becomes defined by the corners instead of the pattern (its source of life). The corners are no longer a natural meeting place of patterns. The corners become the center. Leaves become mathematically identical … and life diminshes.

I find this kind of mental-overriding of naturally emerging patterns is … well … something we need to be attentive to when shaping the tapestry of our individual and communal lives.




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Paul Krafel: Gradients and Edges


“We live within gradients. A gradient of thinning atmosphere intervenes between my lungs and the vacuum of outer space. Just as a gradient of vibrations along the web can guide the spider to the struggling fly, so a gradient of increasingly wider, busier roads can guide me from my driveway to the nearest highway. … I sense that I am approaching a stream through gradients of smells, bird songs, and larger leaves. I sense that I am approaching a city through gradients of increasing traffic, billboards, radio stations, and night glow in the sky.

… something inside me tends to concentrate these gradients into edges that break the world into many independent objects. This is an acorn; over there is a rock …

But when I practice focusing precisely on the edges, a world of separating edges becomes a world of interconnecting gradients. Gradients merge realms I once thought of as distinct. Where is the edge between land and sea? Perhaps the edge is where the waves meet the land. But where is that meeting place? …

A university professor installed a seismograph at the park in Texas where I worked. One day, the seismograph printed out a series of rhythmic pulses, hour after hour. Something was causing the bedrock to vibrate – though only a sensitive machine could detect it. The professor called to tell us that the vibrations were being caused by massive storm waves smashing against the Alaskan coast. Where is the edge between land and sea?”

Paul Krafel – Seeing Nature


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Paul Krafel: Fit


“I once interpreted ‘the survival of the fit’ using ‘fit’as a adjective that described the kind of life that survives: strong animals, well-camouflaged animals, or intelligent animals. Now I thik of ‘fit’ as a noun. The survival of the Fit. Both life and its environment might change but the Fit between them will survive.

… When a bird lands on a perch, they generally glide in lower than the pirch and then swoop upward. This final upward swoop slows the bird so that it can land lightly upon the perch .. We can watch and rate these landings the same way a judge watche a gymnast’s final dismount. How well does the landing fit with the physical laws of gravity and mometum? How skilled is this individual?

Young birds score 3s and 4s … most adults score 8s or 9s (or they would not have survived to adulthood) … Watching for the constantly adjusting Fit between an animal and its world has changed the way I see animals. When I first atarted watching animals my standard questio was ‘What is the name of that animal?’ … Many years later my standard question has shifted to ‘What is this animal doing?’ … Searching for the answer leads into other questions, such as ‘How does this behavior fit?” …. Focusing on names deflects from the moment, whereas watching for the Fit probes the moment’.”

Paul Krafel – Seeing Nature

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Ceptr: Emergence instead of Assembly


This post is a response and reflection on this video posted by Nicolas in the Ceptr General slack channel:

For me, Nicolas did a good job of framing the problem and creating a relatable visual presentation. My commentary starts around the 2:30 mark … at boostrapping. I resonated with the idea that there is one initial group which acts as a crystallizing seed. I did not resonate with the idea that it is a bootstrapping process. I would like to instead suggest that the initial group already exists. It doesn’t suddenly come into being, neither by casting a spell nor by applying organizational theory.

I will try to draw another picture, less generic and more specific to Ceptr. Still I want to emphasize this is just an example, I do not have all the information I would need to create a precise picture. Also, I feel that the two-dimensional visual language is too limiting to communicate a whole image, but it may be enough to at least shine light on another view.

Ceptr Emergence

Our story starts with two people – Arthur and Eric. It is both close to a real beginning and a simple example to demonstrate people coming together:

How did they come together? I would suggest that even that simple diagram is already flawed. Arthur and Eric didn’t come together in a void, they came together around something. For example, they may have come together aroud a field of alternative-currencies:

What is important here is that Arthur and Eric did not create the alternative currency center. It WAS already there, it was the beginning, it brought them together (The dimensions in this diagram can also be misleading. I do not think that Arthur and Eric are “larger” centers then alternative currency. If anything, alternative currency is more like a distant sun, while Arthur and Eric are like small planets or moons.)

As Arthur and Eric placed more attention and energy into the alternative currency center it became more alive … more concrete … and more specific … the MetaCurrency project:

Which had some latent centers in it.

In fact, I am convinced that those latent were already there in some way in the still “separate” Arthur and Eric fields. The MetaCurrency field created nourishing conditions for things which were already there to emerge. Just as MetaCurrency emerged from the more general alternative-currency field … so did these latent centers come into focus … they became more living centers:

And in each of these centers were already present other latent centers, that in a similar way went from being dormant to gaining more focus and life.

For example, Wealth Stewardship center … is that where Ceptr emerged?

And within Ceptr, similarly latent centers came into focus and being:

And one center is now getting more attention than others:

What is Latent?

What do I mean by latent?

A tree is latently present in a seed.

A handful pf sunflower-seed oil is latent in a single sun-flower seed. That seed is planted, it grows into a plant that grows more seeds that are pressed into oil.

You cannot press oil out of grains of sand … because the potential for it isn’t there.

Everything in the natural world comes into being in this way. Nature does not assemble pieces into wholes. Nature does not move trees around to become a forest, leaves are not attached to branches. Everything grows in place. Wholeness cannot be built, it can only emerge, unfold.


It is possible to describe this process as zooming in, but that may turn out to be a misleading assumption kind of like sunsets. What is actually happening here is that as the smaller centers become better defined, more differentiated, more alive … the larger centers expand. Just as an embryo does not grow from “cells being added on” but from internal enhancement … so does Ceptr.

This kind of emerging / unfolding growth can be echoed all the way down to units and lines of code by making sure that every unit is always whole … it can always compile, everything can always produce results, never wrong … getting righter with every iteration.

Consider a simple expression:

if ( x == y) myVar = myFunc(arg1, arg2);

I start to type:

if (

but I don’t remember the names of the variables … so one option is to leave it there broken! and go seek … or I can first make it whole:

if ( true ) myVar = myFunc(

and again I don’t remember the function arguments … so either leave it broken .. or first make it whole:

if ( true ) myVar = 1;

then build up the condition … wholer:

if ( x == y ) myVar = 1;

then look up the function … initially with test values … wholer yet:

if ( x == y ) myVar = myFunc(1,4, ‘abc’);

then place in the correct variables … maybe even one by one … wholer and wholer:

if ( x == y ) myVar = myFunc(arg1,arg2, arg3);

An expression unfolds (as a seed becomes tree) … so can a function, a class, a module … you are creating a whole (you know what role a line plays in a function, a function plays in a module, a module plays in an application, an application plays in our gift to the world) … and when you work this way you can almost feel how every line of code is purposeful and (when created well) resonates throughout the project … expanding from the inside out.

Returning to Wholeness

“You want to know how to paint a perfect painting? It’s easy. Make yourself perfect and then just paint naturally.”

Robert Pirsig – Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance

This is where I want to go back to Nicolas’ point of origin … what he called “bootstrapping”. Start with a group that is obviously there … though there may be a few, I would try to choose “the one” which is core-est. Identify what it does and who is a part of it.

For example … a beginning of Arthur and Eric working on Ceptr – the root do-op:

At one point a latent center appears … storytelling is needed because Arthur and Eric want to communicate with others and people are asking what is Ceptr?

That latent center acts as a kind of attractor … and Matthew and Ferananda appear on the horizon .. hovering around … still not quite a part of Ceptr.

Until the latent story-telling center comes to life … in which case Matthew and Ferananda join the do-op  (still a Ceptr do-op) … they are assimilated:

And as the work continues, the do-op starts to feel “too integrated” even a little crowded. A natural division forms … developers want to focus on development, story-tellers on narrative … staying too close together feels disruptive. The group decides to separate by forming a new do-op dedicated to story-telling. When they do this they are very much aware of their mutual existence and their relationship and cross-fertilization … but now, to create more clarity and focus they become two do-ops:

The separation causes an overall expansion of Ceptr. Already there is clarity regarding two spaces: one technical where the code is written and the about interfacing with the world. Additional latent centers may appear either in the Ceptr do-op or the StoryTelling do-op … those centers again becoming attractors for more people … who may gradually be integrated … lead to further growth and further separations and further expansions … on and on.

As more people join the project and more is happening in it, its gravitational pull may increase and people may start appearing around it … hovering … looking for a way to connect:

… and this may lead to a new vague center / field …

This field can be tricky. I believe it is imperative that the assimilation process continue as described above … allowing for people to join an existing center and being attentive to the emergence of new latent centers around which people can come together. Assimilation should be informed by the emergent internal needs of the project NOT by the externalities that hover around it (people,  projects or ideas).

This layer may become a fertile ground for other surprising kinds of dynamics. People may discover shared interests and form new groups around but not directly a part of Ceptr:

Maybe links may form with other projects …

It may tempting to think of this as an attempt to draw a line between internal/external … but though thay may be a consequence is it NOT the point. The point is, again, that growth does not happen by attaching parts from the outside, but by the formation of centers / needs / ideas on the inside … those ideas becoming attractors for other people who find their place INSIDE what already is.

Flat not Hierarchical

Finally I want to go back to the end of Nicolas’ presentation:

When a do-op / group does form:

  1. Recognize your co-creators … if a group has formed the finding should not be necessary.
  2. Identify your name – it is already present in your field.
  3. Yes, short summary of the group intention.
  4. Do not define, you may have an initial vague idea of such things  … birth the group and see what wants to be … discover what decision processes work for you, how you wish to communicate with internally and with other groups … do not spend energy on functions/roles … don’t make declarations … get to work … real functions and roles will emerge.
  5. YES … (please, please, please) get a website. But more importantly this implies that the work-spaces are not organized in a hierarchy but thay they are a flat list with interconnections (there are no sites within sites).

I’ve written a sample of an unfolding process that can guide us in forming do-ops (workgroups) in this way. The point of that sample process is to make growth and expansion an act of group-awareness (and not an act of copy-pasting a text template that anyone can do).

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Paul Krafel: Sunset


“One evening I saw the Earth turning. Before that night, I had always seen the sun setting toward a stationary horizon. But when I saw the sun ,instead, as stationary, then I saw my horizon rising toward the sun … My mind must make an assumption. Shifting that assumption changes the world I see.

… the word ‘sunset’ channeled my perception … We become what we practice and I began to practice living  on an unmoving, passive world with change happening ‘out there’ beyond my world …

How would our culture change if we practiced watching our Earth turn so that each ‘sunrise’ or ‘sunset’ reminded us daily that we live on a spinning, round, and therefore finite world?

… what other surprises fill this ‘known’ world, hiding behind unconscious assumptions at this very moment?”

Paul Krafel – Seeing Nature

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